Submitted by Kai Williams, Therapy Resource, Keystone East, TX
By late March, therapy students across the United States were dismissed from their onsite clinical affiliations. The wave of COVID-19 created an unprecedented level of displacement for so many therapy students, especially those in the SNF setting. One can only imagine the feeling of despair felt by those who needed just two more weeks to fulfil their affiliation requirements to graduate.

Intelligent risk taking remains one of my favorite core values because it is through that core value that progressive ideas are imagined and crafted into programs that transcend into the next level of care. It was through unified brainstorming that the Virtual Student Program was imagined. After several weeks of discussion with our University partner, we drafted a proposal to the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). We successfully received approval to provide a two‐week/80‐hour virtual clinical learning program to 10 students who were dismissed from their clinical site secondary to the COVID‐19 pandemic. We have officially become the first SNF organization to offer this level of experience to therapy students. These 10 students who participated joined us virtually from a variety of states across the U.S. Many of them had no experience within a SNF setting and during their exit interviews stated how overwhelmingly surprised they were about the depth of exposure they received. We will never aim to dismiss the benefits of onsite instruction, but with the supplement of a virtual clinical experience, you can alleviate some of the onboarding constraints many clinical instructors and students face. This also allows the student to build on their level of confidence and readiness in our care setting. Their level of preparation is enhanced, thus giving them a stronger shot to hit the ground running upon their arrival.

So what does the virtual student experience look like? The virtual program is structured with an interdisciplinary education format designed for student occupational therapists, student physical therapists, and student speech and language pathologists. The virtual program included 55 live instruction hours (labor) provided by over 20 clinicians (PT, OT, ST,). Our objectives spanned the topics of memory care, cardiac care, documentation training, and leadership skills in management, Parkinson ’s disease, and live interactive telehealth sessions with a patient, just to name a few. Additionally, the students gained access to our learning management system (LMS), “Ensign University,” where the students were assigned 17 additional courses to support/facilitate their learning. The interactive courses included learning checkpoints and a final test at the end of each module. The students also had a dedicated PT Clinical Instructor to connect with to offer guidance/feedback.

What’s next? Our hope is to host our second cohort of students, which will include both PT and OT. With the support of our University partners along with our affiliated facilities, we would love to create an “enhanced” student standard that would improve the value of our overall student program. Each student would complete a two-week virtual experience prior to beginning onsite at a facility, in accordance with the National Nursing Home Reopening plan.